There is a lot of debate about doing rounds regarding the FDA's approval of surgical masks being used in place of N95.
Let us understand what N95 masks are:
N95 masks are a type of respirators that offer more protection as compared to surgical masks. It gives filtration from both large and small particles when the wearer inhales. The name N95 is designated as it blocks 95% of microscopic particles. An N95 respirator is a respiratory protective device that gives a very close facial fit and effectively filters the airborne particles. The design of the mask is such that the edges form a seal around the nose and mouth. It is recommended that N95 masks are not shared. It has biocompatibility and flammability.
Let us understand what Surgical masks are:
Surgical masks are a medical mask. They are a loose-fitting disposable mask that protects the wearer’s nose and mouth from contact with droplets, splashes, and sprays that may contain germs. A surgical mask filters out large particles in the air. Surgical masks also serve to protect others by reducing the exposure to the saliva and respiratory secretions of the mask wearer. The masks are a good option, but as per the US Food and Drug Administration, the surgical masks can be used as N95 masks are not available. The leniency is granted only for the virus pandemic as the N95 masks are scarce.
What are more effective, N95 or surgical masks?
There is immense conflict in a recommendation that relates to which facial protection is more effective for the health care workers. The mask used by them has to be efficient in preventing transmission of acute respiratory infections, including the present case of coronavirus pandemic. Several research types have been conducted on both clinical and surrogate exposure data comparing N95 respirators and surgical masks for the prevention of transmissible acute respiratory infections. It was confirmed that the N95 masks have superior ranking when protecting the healthcare workers against acute transmissible respiratory infections while in clinical settings.
N95 Respirators are trusted to defend against the spread of the virus:
The design of N95 pollution masks is that the multiple layers of filters ensure that the air breather is inhaling and is 95% free from dust particles and pollutants. Also, breathing resistance in the N95 masks is comparatively lesser than most of the other types of masks; thus, the wearer can wear it without suffocating. Transmission of acute respiratory infections happens mostly by contact and droplet routes. It has been confirmed that surgical masks, gowns, gloves, and eye protection are considered appropriate personal protective equipment while conducting routine care for patients with a transmissible acute respiratory infection. There are many other doubts regarding the possibility of transmission of acute respiratory infection with limited distance airborne transmission. Several tests are doing rounds that can prove the authenticity of the above observation.
The experiments conducted have proven that N95 respirators are superior to surgical masks. While during the random controlled trials and observational studies regarding the comparisons of N95 respirators and surgical masks, there is no presentation of extra or added features, but then definitely, the surgical masks are underpowered.
How can the surgical masks work as effectively as the N95 masks at capturing the viruses?
When the FDA had approved the surgical masks to be equivalent to N95 respirators for the pandemic situation, there was a lot of stir. The health care workers and researchers were shocked by the decision and wanted to deny it, but it was only after a few more supportive statistics the confusion was concluded. The question that posed in mind was how a loose fitted surgical mask filters a small virus. The truth is that most of the masks, be it N95 or surgical, are ineffective in capturing the virus. Of the many tests conducted in one of the tests where the particle under the test was as small as 0.007 microns, that is smaller than the present virus, and the humble surgical mask can block 80% of the particles. In the same test, the N95 and the N99 masks had the upper hand. As they could filter 95% and 99% of the particles. It came as a surprise that surgical masks are effective as the N95 masks, and also it is easy to capture the particles that come in the droplet form. The matter that concerns here is that the masks should come from an authentic source. The dealer or manufacturer from where you are buying the mask needs to have approval from NIOSH and FDA. Also, wearing the masks as per the manufacturer’s instructions is important for them to perform perfectly. The masks for sire are a boon, but after removing the mask, one must sanitize their hands.
In the end, we can safely conclude that both N95 and surgical masks have proved their worth during the pandemic situation. It is advised that both the masks are used in different combinations like a surgical mask over the N95 mask or N95 with a face shield to prevent the spread of the disease and protect the health care workers. The question here that should have more importance is how to increase the production of the N95 masks to bridge the gap between the need and availability of the masks. Surgical masks are effective but less than the N95 masks, yet they are a part of the PPE. Therefore when there is a scarcity of masks, and the vaccine to end the virus is yet to reach the public, both the masks can help prevent healthcare workers from getting infected with the virus while attending the COVID-19 patients.